Government

Drug court tries to balance health risks with support and accountability

Judge concerned about isolating participants amid coronavirus pandemic

Judge Fae Hoover (left) speaks with Barbara Cartmell of Cedar Rapids, a participant in the Linn County Drug Court progra
Judge Fae Hoover (left) speaks with Barbara Cartmell of Cedar Rapids, a participant in the Linn County Drug Court program, in August 2015 at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Drug Court team is working on how to provide support and accountability to participants, which is important for recovery and treatment, while making sure everybody remains healthy.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover said a limited number of participants met with her and her team for the regular Monday court. A few participants are in the high-risk category for coronavirus, and those individuals were allowed to skip court.

“We’re still figuring out how to stay in contact and for it not to be isolating for them,” Hoover said. “It’s an evolving process right now. But I am concerned about interruption of habit, which isn’t helpful.”

She said they have to find that balance between maintaining accountability to help ensure good choices are being made and keeping everyone healthy.

Hoover said the team — herself, a probation officer, substance abuse treatment coordinators and counselors, a defense attorney and an assistant county attorney — decided drug court participants will stay in contact with probation through calls and text messages, as opposed to in-person meetings, for now.

She reached out to the other drug courts in the state to see what they planned going forward, and many decided not to have court this week. Hoover, for now, is using her discretion but wants the participants to have regular contact with the team in some way.

Hoover also works with pro se litigants — individuals without lawyers — seeking marriage dissolutions Wednesday, and she plans to leave it up to them whether they want to postpone. Hoover said she doesn’t want to prevent anyone from using court services at this point. She hopes they will use good judgment if they are feeling bad or in the high-risk category — elderly or individuals with another health issue.

Drug court, which started in Linn County in 2007, allows offenders to get substance abuse treatment while under court supervision — instead of serving time in jail. The program uses incentives, sanctions and resources to help motivate each of the offenders.

Only offenders who commit non-violent felonies or aggravated misdemeanors that stem from substance abuse are eligible for the program. The defense attorney and prosecutor on the team make referrals, and then the entire team evaluates offenders in deciding whom to accept.

There are 25 participants in Linn County’s court, and about six are set to complete the program and graduate in June or July. Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com